Mount Agung's eruption yet to affect tourism in Bali

The Mount Agung volcano spews smoke, as seen from Karangasem, Bali. PHOTO: AFP

DENPASAR (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It was a cloudy, rainy morning on Wednesday (Nov 22) at the popular Kuta beach in Bali, and a number of foreign tourists were enjoying their holiday. Many of them could be seen surfing, while others were lying on wooden beach beds, having a beer or some other cold drink.

Some 70 kilometres from Kuta, Bali's tallest volcano erupted on Tuesday afternoon in a small phreatic eruption, less than a month after the alert level was lowered from the highest level to the third-highest level.

The volcanic ash cloud spewed by Mount Agung - located in Karangasem regency - has yet to affect tourism on Indonesia's most famous resort island, amid concerns about bigger eruptions yet to come, according to the provincial tourism agency.

"Everything is running normally here," Bali Tourism Agency head AA Gede Yuniartha Putra said on Wednesday.

Private tourist operators agreed, with Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, chairman of the Bali Tourism Board, saying that Bali tourism was running well since there had been no travel cancellations recorded so far.

Last month, following an increase of the volcano's alert status to the highest level on Sept 22, tourist operators in Bali had raised concerns after thousands of foreign tourists cancelled their trips to the Island.

Chairman of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati said, at that time, that around 70,000 tourists had cancelled their plans to visit Bali between October and November.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency had also estimated that, since Sept 22, Mount Agung had cost up to Rp 2 trillion (S$199.5 million) in cancelled tourist visits, halted mining operations and evacuees' lost working hours.

However, the provincial tourism agency said on Wednesday that the increased activity of Mount Agung, which had forced more than 100,000 residents to flee in recent months, would not affect tourism in the future.

"I am certain that the target of 5.5 million (foreign) tourist arrivals can be reached by the end of this year. And we will set a target of 6.5 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2018," AA Gede said.

As of September, the province had recorded around 4.5 million tourist arrivals.

Bali tourism private stakeholders have also been preparing for evacuation and alternative plans for their customers should further eruptions take place.

"We are preparing many things, including the procedure to evacuate tourists. However, we cannot give more details now," Ida Bagus said. "We hope no (bigger) eruption occurs. But if it happens, we are ready."

The small eruption has also yet to disrupt the operation of the island's Ngurah Rai International Airport.

"Airport operation is still normal. Passenger arrivals are still normal and no flights have been cancelled," state-owned operator PT Angkasa Pura I's communication and legal division head Arie Ahsanurrohim said.

The small eruption, however, has prompted Indonesia's neighbour Singapore to issue on Wednesday a travel advisory for its citizens in Bali "to be ready to evacuate at short notice."

"Singaporeans should defer non-essential travel to the affected areas of the island at this juncture," Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in the travel advisory, urging its citizens in Bali to also monitor the development of Mount Agung closely amid concerns of eruptions that could "severely disrupt air travel."

At least five villages located within the danger zone of Mount Agung were affected by the volcanic ash, including Pidpid, Nawakerti, Bukit Galah, Sebudi and Abang village, reported.

As of Wednesday, the number of Mount Agung evacuees was about 25,997 people in 229 shelters across Bali.

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